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A puppy’s experiences when they’re young will help shape how they learn and develop for the rest of their life, which is why it’s so important to safely socialise your dog from an early age, in many different situations and with different people too.

The most critical period for socialisation takes place in the first 4 months of your dog's life, so if you’re in those early stages, or are unsure how to approach this topic, here are 4 tips you can use to help socialise your puppy.

Finding out what motivates your puppy

Figuring out what motivates your dog is very important when it comes to socialisation. It’s recommended that pet owners only use reward-based methods so that your puppy can be set up to succeed for performing good behaviour.

They can then be rewarded with a particular food or treat, a certain toy, or even just attention or pats. Make sure to always reward them with this during positive interactions. This is a much more effective training method than punishing them for undesirable behaviour.

Learn about which toxic foods your dog should not eat.

Socialisation or training classes for puppies

Consider enrolling your puppy in a socialisation/training class. This will give them the opportunity to learn and interact in a safe environment alongside qualified trainers and other puppies that are their age.

Positive socialisation plays an important part in your puppy’s ongoing development and your puppy may be rewarded in class to reinforce those skills. This is why you may need to know what motivates your puppy before you attend your first class. Do they like food, toys, attention, or pats?

Attending a socialisation/training session will also help your dog interact with other puppies outside a dog park setting, which you should avoid until after completing your puppy’s full course of vaccinations.

Introducing your puppy to new things

While they’re young, try to introduce your dog to as many different people and situations as possible. To create positive associations with other people and dogs make sure to reward your puppy when you come across another dog or person.

If your puppy becomes worried by a new situation, person or another dog first reassure them that they are safe, remove them from the situation and attempt the situation again when they are more comfortable.

It’s important that you continue to expose them to situations safely and positively so that they can learn to cope and interact with other dogs and humans.

You should also try to introduce your puppy to a range of different sights, smells, objects, surfaces, sounds, experiences, and skills. Again forming positive associations with these types of activities will evoke a better experience for your puppy.

These types of experiences may include:

  • Sights and objects – Dress up in different clothing and showcase a new and interesting object each time.
  • Surfaces – Take your dog for a walk across a range of surfaces including concrete, grass, pavement, wood, ramps and more.
  • Sounds – Play playlists of everyday sounds like household appliances, cars, birds, other barking dogs, wind and more.
  • Experiences – Take your puppy through a range of experiences like getting them used to touch, getting used to driving in the car and playing with toys.

Always remember to keep these situations positive and short so that you don’t overwhelm your puppy. Try to only introduce one to two new things and reward them if they stay calm throughout the experience.

Discussing socialisation with your vet

If your dog has difficulty socialising, is excessively shy or aggressive then discussing this with your vet may be the next step. Your vet can let you know how they want to support your puppy’s learning and development in a special behavioural consult.

Depending on your puppy’s behaviour your vet may recommend that you spend some more time with a specialised puppy trainer or that you should consider visiting a qualified veterinary behaviourist.

Please keep in mind that if your puppy growls in a new social experience it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being naughty or aggressive. A growl often means that this is your puppy’s way of saying that they’ve had enough. If this is a concern though then you should try to speak to your vet as soon as you can.

Insuring your puppy

You should consider whether pet insurance is right for you. You never know when your pet may get an illness, or if they will suffer an accidental injury while out and about, experiencing new things.

Budget Direct Pet insurance can help you financially by reimbursing up to 80% of eligible vet expenses, up to the annual limit of $12,000 (sub-limits, exclusions, waiting periods and excess apply). See the PDS for more information.